About a week ago I took a quick trip down to Morro Bay, so I could spend some time at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal refuge, a place where the seals haul out on the beaches every winter to give birth, nurse their young and mate before returning to the seas. I’ve been going there since 2011, although I haven’t been able to schedule this since 2014, so I felt I was overdue.

It was a quick trip: I cut out of work at lunch and drove down, spent Friday and Saturday night in the town, and drove home Sunday morning.

Sometimes these trips are easy and the images almost create themselves. This was not one of those trips. This was a time where you just have to grind it out and make it happen.

Part of the issue was I was a bit under the weather — not feeling sick, but off. I am, unfortunately, at an age where some days are just off days. I’ve been fighting an ear and sinus thing for a while, minor, but every so often it chooses to punch back, and this weekend it did. On top of that, I let myself get a bit dehydrated — on a driving trip, there’s this fine line between not drinking enough fluid and visiting every damned Starbucks between here and the destination (Starbucks, I’ve found, has consistently the cleanest restrooms on the road these days. Not perfect, but for the cost of an iced tea, they can be a godsend). I’ve always been sensitive to dehydration and I try to watch it, but sometimes I simply guess wrong.

My old favorite hotel changed staff, changed names, pulled itself out of Best Western and went independent, and the reviews on Tripadvisor were okay but showed some possible worries, so I decided it was a good time to audition new places. After years of primarily staying in Best Western whenever possible, I’ve been shifting to other chains more, mostly for convenience (and not for anything Best Western is doing wrong). In Morro Bay, there are two Best Westerns (used to be three), one I don’t stay at because most of its rooms are upstairs and without an elevator, and the other is, well, perfectly okay but nothing special, but tends to be a bit more expensive.

I ended up at the Morro Bay Choice Hotel, a couple of blocks from the harbor and with a decent price. I found the staff wonderful and the place clean and well kept. I’ll ding it a bit because the bed wasn’t the most comfortable (it was okay, not bad) and there was a bit more noise from nearby rooms than I prefer, but that’s common with the lower end hotel chains. Let’s call it a B- and yes, I’d stay there again especially if I want to minimize the trip costs. Well, I’ll give it a B because it has balconies on the rooms with chairs, and mine had a decent view of the rock and the harbor.

And, as sometimes happens on a strange mattress when you’re not feeling well, it took forever to go to sleep and I slept poorly. That meant when the alarm fired off a bit before dawn, I was still tired and a bit grumpy, and the sinuses and general feeling of “meh” had me seriously thinking of going back to bed.

The adult part of me won, and I got up and got out and on the road. I arrived at the seals a bit before 9, not exactly dawn patrol but that area can get fog early and the animals often aren’t active until later. I was the third car in the lot.

This is a week later than I’ve visited before, and it seemed to me most of the females had given birth, the pups seemed older and the males seemed pretty mellow. There are going to be females leaving when they finish nursing and others arriving later, which keeps this rookery going from late december through February, but mid-January seems to be prime time, and I was just a bit past that.

That said, there was a lot going on and it was a fun visit. After about 90 minutes (and 500 images shot) I called it, feeling like I had gotten what I wanted, and because me knees were ready for a break. When I left, the parking lot was effectively full.

Part of my goal here was to get some fresh images for the library, but I was also working on a piece about the seals and I wanted to spend some time close to them getting a feel for the sights and sounds and smells rather than depend on memories of a few years ago.

I’ve now published that, and you can find it here: The Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas. I’m quite happy with how that turned out.

The rest of the trip was pretty mundane. I had a couple of nice meals (both on the water: Dutchman’s for the chowder and fish and chips, and Hofbrau for a french dip with onion rings).

Mule Deer, Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, San Luis Obispo County, California

I slept way better then second night, and I had my traditional walk through Sweet Springs Nature Preserve along the north shore of the estuary. Nothing especially unusual in the way of birds, but I did run into three mule deer feeding near the roadway, the second time I’ve seen them there.

By the time I finished that walk, it was clear I needed to go fix the dehydration, so I wandered back to the hotel, went out onto the balcony, sat down and worked my way through fluids until I started to feel better and it was clear there was enough fluid in the system again.

Sunday I’d originally planned a walk out by the marina on the boardwalk, but I just didn’t feel up to it, so instead I packed up and got on the drive home.

So, a short trip, with the primary goal accomplished, but I had to drop a few secondary things where I just didn’t feel up to it. Still, happy I went, happy with the results.

No more trips on the horizon right now, but I want to try to get to Yosemite for dogwood season; we’ll see. I do have a fairly busy schedule of birding outings I’ll be leading, expect a note on those soon.

And it was actually a rather nice way to close out what’s been a pretty good and productive January…